Latoya Ogunbona lends her voice to SSU graduation

SALEM — Latoya Ogunbona of Lynn will be the student speaker for the Salem State University School of Graduate Studies Commencement ceremony Thursday at 4 p.m. Ogunbona, 31, will receive her Master of Social Work (MSW) degree.

When Ogunbona was accepted into Salem State’s MSW Program in 2016 she had three goals.

“I would be inducted into Phi Alpha, get all A’s and I would be a commencement speaker,” Ogunbona said. “I promised myself that if I went back to school it wouldn’t be for nothing and I would put my all into my studies.”

Ogunbona has recently been inducted into the national social work honor society, Phi Alpha, and is waiting to hear back from professors to confirm her “straight-A-streak” at Salem State.

Ogunbona, who works as a director for Swampscott Public Schools, found out she was selected to speak at commencement after receiving an email while on the phone with a friend from Ghana.

“The headline said ‘Congratulations’ and I started laughing and crying,” Ogunbona said. “I was just so happy, and my friend asked, ‘Are you OK?'”

Ogunbona spent three years completing her master’s degree at Salem State, during which she was the student voice for the curriculum committee and a graduate research assistant for professors Lisa Johnson and Elspeth Slayter, who are working on a book together about the intersectionality of foster care and its disparities.

Ogunbona said, “As their grad student I told them the things that I wanted out of the program and they were very supportive.”

Ogunbona will continue to work after graduation as an administrator for all schools in Swampscott that partake in the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity program (METCO), a grant program funded by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that aims to expand educational opportunities, increase diversity, and reduce racial isolation by permitting students in certain cities to attend public schools in other communities.

Ogunbona tells students in Swampscott regularly that, “if you don’t ask, the answer is always going to be no,” a philosophy she used to create her own elective at Salem State that involved creating a book list, a syllabus and spending a semester in Ghana.

“Faculty told me how to create my own elective. I wanted to go to Ghana and work with nonprofits to see what infrastructure there were for social services and social problems,” Ogunbona said. “I went to Ghana, but if I never asked I would’ve been here doing an elective I wasn’t interested in. Salem State helped to reinforce my personal philosophy and allowed me to explore my interests and enhance my MSW experience.

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